DRC: Another rebel group gives up
Disarmed militiamen at a transit centre in Ituri
KINSHASA, 28 February 2007 (IRIN) - One of the main rebel groups in the troubled
Ituri District of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) began surrendering
its weapons on Tuesday under an ongoing demobilisation, disarmament and
reintegration (DDR) process, military and United Nations sources said.
The Front des nationalistes et intégrationnistes (FNI) militia, whose leader,
Peter Karim, was made a colonel in the national army in October 2006, started
handing in their arms in a village near Lake Albert on the DRC's border with
"It is the last active group whose main elements turned in their weapons
this morning in the village of Dera and are being taken to a centre for initial
orientation," said Gen Vainqueur Mayala Vichana, the national army's
commander in charge of Ituri. About 170 militiamen out of FNI's estimated 1,000
fighters had surrendered their arms by midday on Tuesday, he added.
Two other armed groups, which continued their military campaign during the
transition period after the 2003 peace agreement designed to end civil war in
the DRC and even after the 2006 elections, have already surrendered their arms
under the DDR programme.
"This first gesture by Karim is a good thing so that the United Nations
Children's Fund [UNICEF] can recover child soldiers so that they can be
reintegrated back into schools or in professional jobs, crafts, trades. We hope
that Karim will go all the way because we estimate that 500 children are with
him," said Bienvenu Panda, UNICEF's child protection officer in Ituri.
The FNI had been, until now, outside the DDR process because Karim had imposed
conditions on his group’s participation in it.
"The fact that 170 militiamen have joined the [disarmament] process is an
encouraging sign," Mayala said.
He said the government was satisfied it had met all the conditions set by Karim
except the demand for amnesty.
"Amnesty is a question of a political nature that I cannot respond to, but
since a government has been formed after the elections, we have to wait for it
to deal with the issue within the political framework and we will, without
doubt, have a positive response," Mayala explained. The government made
Karim an army colonel and gave him money to organise the logistics of
demobilising his combatants, he added.
According to Lt Col Didier Rancher, spokesman for the UN Mission in the Congo (MONUC),
the talks that led to the start of the arms surrender exercise were led by
Mayala on the army side, while Karim headed the FNI delegation.
Humanitarian agencies are continuing to resume their activities in the zone
under Karim's control.
"UN agencies are continuing to go into the zone under military
escort," said Idrissa Conteh, information office of the UN Office for the
Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ituri.
Despite improving security on the ground, an estimated 15,000 displaced people
are reluctant to return to their homes, according to OCHA.
"They fled due to fighting, in the past weeks, between the army and
militias; harassment and looting of their property by the army and the burning
of their houses," Idrissa said.
MONUC had deployed several companies of soldiers in the area where the arms were
being given up and provided helicopters to take the disarmed fighters to the
orientation centre, Ranchier said.
According to the agreement, the demobilised combatants will be free to choose
whether to return to civilian life or join the DRC army.
"There is a place for everybody in the national army. It is a question of
choice," said Mayala. He said the disarmament exercise was not the only
challenge. Reconciliation between rival ethnic groups was crucial, he said.
Ituri has been ravaged by ethnic conflict since 1999. More than six armed groups
have fought intermittently, leaving more than 50,000 people dead and another